October 26, 2015

AK Party gov’t seizes critical holding, media groups a week before polls

In the latest example of a politically motivated attack on the private sector and independent media, the interim Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has appointed a trustee to take over management of Koza İpek Holding, which owns media outlets that are critical of the government, a prosecutor's note revealed on Monday.

Turkish media reported on Monday that a trustee will be appointed to replace the existing boards of directors of Koza and companies that belong to it following a demand by the 5th Ankara Criminal Court of Peace. “Courts of peace” are a new feature of the Turkish justice system, established by the government when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was prime minister as specially authorized courts with extraordinary powers that contradict the universal rule of law.

The problem with the criminal courts of peace, which were established after Erdoğan and his political allies controversially pushed legislation through Parliament, is that they act as “closed circuit” courts. Appealing a judge's ruling can only be made to the same court and often to the same judge who issued the original ruling. They were designed by the government to pursue its critics and opponents by orchestrating what many have said are sham trials in politically motivated cases. The judge who made Monday's decision was Yunus Süer, who earlier banned access to Twitter in Turkey. His verdict was then taken to Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) by other colleagues.

The court has made extremely controversial rulings against a number of people and companies critical of the government over the past months. Monday's decision to appoint a trustee to Koza also contradicts the Turkish Constitution, which says a court must first inform the relevant company of malfunctions and the seizure of the company requires a comprehensive report from the Ministry of Trade proving that it has failed to operate healthily. Article 133 of the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) states that “if there is evidence that a crime has been committed within the framework of activities of a company and it is necessity to reveal the material truth during the stage of investigation and trial, the judge or court may appoint a trustee for the undertaking of the company's business.”

None of these procedures were followed in Monday's verdict, pundits argued on Monday, warning of legal action against the court itself and the alleged political will behind it. Koza was not immediately available to comment Monday. The holding is charged with “financing terrorism,” reports have said.

Shares in group companies plunged sharply following the news on Monday.

The move came after reports emerged saying that the Turkish government was planning to seize Koza İpek Holding ahead of the Nov. 1 general election by orchestrating falsified reports issued by the Finance Ministry's Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK). The unlawful seizure of the critical media group by the government ahead of the Nov. 1 election puts raises questions as to whether the election in Turkey will be free and fair, experts argued on Monday.

In a two-page letter dated Aug. 14, 2015 and submitted to the Anti-constitutional Crimes Investigation Bureau at the Chief Prosecutor's Office in Ankara, MASAK President İbrahim Hakkı Polat asked the prosecutor to seize the conglomerate and appoint a trustee to replace the existing board of directors. He claimed that the investigation into the holding's assets could be done better if the government takes over the company.

The government-led police raids on the corporate offices of Koza İpek Holding in Ankara and its subsidiaries on Sept. 1 were carried out after MASAK submitted a report to the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office whose allegations were published by the pro-government media, despite the fact that the holding denying the report's findings. The police seized also computers from the company.

The warrant was issued by Ankara 7th Penal Court of Peace Judge Mustafa Çorumlu. The search warrant, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, shows that two of the company's subsidiaries -- Koza Altın and Koza Anadolu Metal -- were investigated on suspicion of "terror financing," "terror propaganda" and other crimes related to CEO Akın İpek's alleged support for Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, against whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a witch hunt following the eruption of a corruption scandal in December 2013.

Ankara-based Koza İpek is active in several sectors, including media, energy and mining. Among the locations raided in a recent government-led operation were İpek University and the headquarters of Koza İpek in Ankara.

Opposition strongly condemned AK Party government's move with Republican People's Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy Barış Yarkadaş saying the decision is completely arbitrary and illegitimate.

"This operation which is carried out without a court order is arbitrary, null and void and illegitimate," Yarkadaş tweeted. "Those who took as well as those who implement this decision are committing a constitutional crime,” he continued, adding that the move is the latest attempt of the government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to silence critical media.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 October 2015, Monday